Finland

Key documents: Regulation on Special Care for the Mentally Handicapped, Basic Education Act, Finnish Constitution, Special Education Strategy, Student Care Act, and the Non-Discrimination Act.

Characteristics: Special education needs policy in Finland is incorporated in general education policy. There are few policies aimed towards special education needs or disability specifically, yet these topics are broadly covered in the overarching policies that regulate education (e.g. the Basic Education Act). Nevertheless, some form of equity is achieved through the referenced articles from the Constitution and the way special education needs services are set up in the Acts. This is because legislation dictates that every child should be given the resources and services they need in order to develop themselves to their fullest. It is not specified how special education needs services are financed in educational institutions. However, since educational institutions are funded by the state, it is implied that the provision of special education needs services falls under this funding as well. Overall, as Finnish basic education system is based on the philosophy of inclusion and all children are supported individually so that they can successfully complete their basic education.

Overview

  • The first notice of special education needs in Finland came with the introduction of the Regulation on Special Care for the Mentally Handicapped in 1977 [1]. In Article 28, it introduces the possibility for children that are prevented from attending regular schools due to their condition to follow training courses until the year in which they turn 16. Before this article applies, though, the children in question need to be assessed by a team of trained professionals in order to gauge their capacity as objectively and accurately as possible, according to Article 29. 
  • A more inclusive approach came with the ratification of the Basic Education Act in 1998 that was supplemented with amendments in 2010 [2]. In Chapter 1, the purpose of this law is named in Article 2, which states that teaching should promote the conditions for children to participate in their own education and, by extension, develop themselves during their lives.  
  • Furthermore, this Act puts the responsibility of providing education to children that are of compulsory education age with the municipality in Article 4. More specifically, children that require regular support or schooling in their education, must be provided with improved support that is in accordance with their personal learning plan.  
  • Additionally, special education needs services consist of special education and other support provided under this Act as per Article 17. Special education is organized with a high priority on the child’s needs, while keeping in mind the environment in which the teaching is organised and the context of parallel education.  
  • Finally, Article 43 of Chapter 8 explains that state subsidies are provided for pre-school and basic education if special education needs support needs to be provided. 
  • With the introduction of the renewed Constitution in 1999 [3], several basic rights were specified in Chapter 2 that apply to children with special education needs. Firstly, Article 6 stated that everyone is equal before the law. Additionally, Article 16 declared that everyone has the right to free basic education. 
  • The Ministry of Education published the Special Education Strategy in 2006 [4]. This strategy involved creating a proposal for a long-term strategy for the development of pre-primary and basic special education. It acknowledged the growth in special education of the last years. As a result, it was proposed that the practice at the time needed to shift towards an earlier support and prevention-based approach, and that this was to be adopted as the primary form of support, even before a decision on whether a child requires special education would be made. The aim of this approach was to reinforce learning and growth and to prevent the magnification and/or escalation of problems relating to learning, development, or social interaction. Finally, the proposal claims that the inclusion of early childhood education in the education system would allow special-needs children to proceed flexibly and safely from early childhood to pre-primary and further to basic education. 
  • Subsequently, the Student Care Act was adopted in 2013 [5]. According to Article 2 of Chapter 1, the purposes of this Act are to 1) promote student learning, health and welfare and inclusion and to prevent the emergence of problems; 2) contribute to the school community and student well-being of the environment, health and safety, accessibility, community activities, as well as cooperation between home and educational institution; 3) ensure early support for those who need it; 4) ensure equal access and quality of students' learning required by the service; and 5) confirm the establishment and management functional entity, and a horizontal collaborative study service. 
  • Finally, the Non-Discrimination Act was ratified in 2014 [6]. According to Article 1, the Act aimed to promote equality and prevent discrimination, as well as to enhance the legal protection offered against discrimination. Article 2 then stated that this Act applied to public and private activities, thus including education. 


References
[1] Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. Regulation on Special Care for the Mentally Handicapped. 1977. Available from: https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/smur/1977/19770988?search%5Bkohdista%5D=koko&search%5Ball%5D=&search%5Bany%5D=koulutus opetus&search%5Bphrase%5D=&search%5Bwithout%5D=&search%5Btype%5D=tekstihaku
[2] Finnish Ministry of Education. Basic Education Act. 1998. Available from: https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/1998/en19980628.pdf
[3] Finnish Ministry of Justice. The Constitution of Finland. 1999. Available from: https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/1999/en19990731.pdf
[4] Finnish Ministry of Education. Special Education Strategy. 2006. Available from: http://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/79498/tr47.pdf
[5] Finnish Ministry of Education, Finnish Ministry of Culture. Student Care Act. 2013. Available from: https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/ajantasa/2013/20131287
[6] Finnish Ministry of Justice. Non-Discrimination Act. 2014. Available from: https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/alkup/2014/20141325?search%5Btype%5D=pika&search%5Bpika%5D= syrjintä#Pidp446480544